Spotlight on Extreme Kids & Crew
On Thursday, May 19, Extreme Kids & Crew honors the Felix Award recipient choreographer Rebecca Alson-Milkman at their Annual Gala Celebration, 7:30pm, 501 Union Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn. RSVPs are required to attend this fundraising gala. Click here for more.
Eliza Factor, a Brooklyn writer and mother of three, was having a hard time finding a public place where all three of her children could enjoy themselves and be together. Her son Felix, who has autism and cerebral palsy, could not take part in most of his younger sisters’ activities. His wheelchair and walker were heavy and clunky and could only be hauled up stairs and doorsteps with the help of kind strangers, who were not always around. Just as necessary to consider were social barriers. Felix was not interested in following directions or participating as a member of a group. He was not toilet trained. He did not speak or sign. He would slap himself and howl like a banshee when frustrated. He did not fit in—nor did he want to fit in—to most of the events arranged for children. While Eliza found special riding, swimming, and music programs that Felix loved, they were only for children with disabilities. They had no place for his sisters—or her, for that matter.
And so was born Extreme Kids & Crew, a nonprofit started by Eliza and a bunch of her friends that is dedicated to providing arts and movement programming for children with disabilities, along with their siblings, parents, and pals. Now in its fourth year, the organization operates two sensory play and art spaces in Brooklyn where hundreds of families from every borough in New York City meet, and where any type of ability is welcome. Participants include children, teenagers, and young adults on the autism spectrum as well as those with sensory processing disorders, cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, spina bifida, ADHD, and the multitude of other diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions that place people outside of the “norm.” The programs are designed to give every member of the family an outlet for self expression, whatever form may take: painting, felting, climbing, jumping, rolling, talking, swinging, dancing, reciting, chanting, yodeling, acting, or, like Ferdinand, “sitting just quietly and smelling the flowers.”
“When you give kids with disabilities and special needs the space to be,” says Eliza, “they alter the space, creating an atmosphere that is open, invigorating, and deeply moving. It’s an amazing thing to witness and could never be created were it not for the strange and unusual gifts that these kids bring with them.”
To educate the general public about these “strange and unusual gifts,” and dissolve some of the fear and pity that surrounds disability, Extreme Kids & Crew has initiated the Felix Awards. Starting in 2014, the Felix Awards will honor individuals in the arts who have broadened, questioned, and deepened the general public’s perception of disability.
While living with disability and caring for those with disabilities is no picnic, neither is it the gloomy tomb that it is often made out to be. Indeed, the challenges, pains, frustrations, and injustices associated with disability can lead to creativity, resilience, humor, and novel ways of perceiving the world. Much of the disconnect between what disability looks like from the outside and what it feels like from the inside has do with misunderstanding and inexperience. The arts have an important role to play in breaking down some of this misunderstanding. A deeper knowledge of disability can make not only for better manners and civic relations, but can help members of the general public better accept their own frailties, quirks, and mortality. Most of us will become disabled at some point in our lives. Most of us will also care for a disabled loved one. Understanding that disability need not be a punishment, banishment, end-of-everything-good, but that it is simply a part of life, is surely useful to our collective mental health.
Posted: Apr 22, 2014
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
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